Performance matters, but so does who you know

Nov 08 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Although employees on both sides of the Atlantic accept that you need to perform if you want to get ahead, a significant proportion still believe that its who you know that really matters.

American and British employees share a similar trust in job performance as the key to advancement in the workplace, according to survey of more than 1,241 employees in both countries conducted by Novations Group, a Boston-based consulting firm.

But while two-thirds of employees in both countries cited job performance as the most important reason for promotion, a sizeable minority believes that it is "who you know" rather than "how you perform" that is crucial to climbing the greasy pole.

Contrary to the notion of the U.S. as meritocracy, however, some one in five Americans, compared to just one in seven of Britons, believe that this sort of nepotism still plays a part in promotion decisions.

More than twice as many Americans than Britons - 11 per cent compared to just four per cent - also view seniority as a deciding factor.

"Employee attitudes on both sides of the Atlantic seem to converge when it comes to this core issue in today's organisation," said Novations Group Vice President Paul Terry, who oversaw the research.

"Frankly, we expected the British to be less confident that performance would determine promotion. Whatever gap may have existed appears to be superseded by a common commitment to getting the job done, more of an acceptance of achievement -based policies and less on presumed rank or privilege. This would be a healthy development."

On the other hand, employee mistrust is ever present on both sides of the pond

"One in five U.S. employees is still pretty cynical about how co-workers get ahead, and the British are only a bit behind," Terry added.

"This a classic challenge for management, to motivate and lead in a way that's seen as fair and based on getting the job done."

But one difference between the two countries did confirm traditional stereotypes. In the U.K. social class has a significant impact on attitudes toward job advancement.

Among middle and upper middle class employees, almost three-quarters (73 per cent) trust in job performance. Among lower middle class the figure was two-thirds, but among skilled working class and working class this figure was just six out of 10 (60 per cent and 58 per cent respectively).

In the U.S, meanwhile, it is income levels that is a better predictor. Three-quarters of those earning $75,000 or more saw performance as the key compared with only half of those earning less than $25,000.

"Organisations on both sides of the Atlantic have improved their development and promotion practices," said Terry.

"And the findings suggest most employees can make the connection between performance and advancement. Nevertheless, those in lower-level positions seem to need more coaching an support in order to feel included."